Rural judges push back against law mandating bail hearings within 48 hours

By: - April 11, 2022 5:05 am

“When you talk about all courts not being equal, are you suggesting that some Nevadans should have different rights than other Nevadans based upon where they live?” asked state Sen. Dallas Harris. (Photo: White Pine County)

Ahead of a law requiring a bail hearing within 48 hours of an arrest taking effect this summer, rural judges told lawmakers on Friday they worry smaller jurisdictions won’t be prepared. 

White Pine County Judge Stephen Bishop, who in October began conducting hearings ahead of the law’s required implementation, cited antiquated technology, staffing shortages, insufficient funding and lack of desire to work weekends as obstacles.

Democratic state Sen. Dallas Harris of Las Vegas, who is part of the interim Committee on the Judiciary, asked if there are any solutions judges could offer that would aid counties in implementing the law. 

“I don’t want to sound glib here with this, but ideally making it 48 business hours so we don’t have to deal with the weekends and holidays,” Bishop said. “That would be the best way to address this. If I had that, then I would have no problems at all.” 

Rural judges, who raised concerns about the law when it was first being discussed at the 2021 Legislature, argued again that the “one-size-fits-all” approach for bail hearings might not work in smaller counties, especially without sufficient funds or resources. 

“When you talk about all courts not being equal, are you suggesting that some Nevadans should have different rights than other Nevadans based upon where they live?” Harris asked. “How do we treat courts differently but also assure all Nevadans are treated equally under our Constitution and laws.”

Washoe County Judge Kevin Higgins didn’t disagree that bail reform was necessary, but argued courts in larger areas, such as Clark and Washoe, have more resources than rural locales. 

“There simply is no excuse good enough to keep the state from providing a bail determination in a prompt manner,” said Holly Welborn, the policy director for the ACLU of Nevada. “This Legislature defined that as 48 hours.” 

Despites legislative attempts and calls by civil rights groups and criminal justice advocates to reform the bail system, Nevada has struggled to adopt policies. 

Of the various issues groups pointed out about the bail system, many cited cases where people sit in jail for prolonged periods of time waiting to appear in front of a judge, which results in a variety of hardships, including loss of income. 

Assembly Bill 424 requires judges to conduct a pretrial release within 48 hours of a person being arrested. Original language for the bill sought bail hearings within 24 hours. 

The legislation takes effect July 1. 

“Reform costs money, but there hasn’t been any money set aside for it,” Bishop said.  

Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen mentioned other states, including Alabama, conducted hearings within 24 hours even in rural counties, and asked if rural judges sought insight from other states who have implemented similar legislation.

The answer was no. 

Clark County Judge Anne Zimmerman, speaking on behalf of the Nevada Judges of Limited Jurisdiction, which represents judges from courts throughout the state, said she “can certainly conduct judges in Alabama and find out how they do it.”  

“We’ve been concentrating our efforts on how to assist the rural courts with upgrading their technology and doing everything possible to comply with AB 424 when it comes online,” she said. 

Bishop said since he started working under the law ahead of its implementation, “it’s been rough.” 

“I take a lot of flak for it from law enforcement officers, jailers, other judges, defense attorneys and the public, like I’m the one who developed this process and created it,” he said. “I have not had a true day off since October, and it’s killing me. Nobody wants to or is able to fill in for these. All the other courts are struggling with how they are going to do it and aren’t particularly able to assist other courts.”

He said that counties have had a hard time securing funding to upgrade technology necessary to potentially conduct virtual hearings or to cover overtime for staff working extended hours.

When he approached the White Pine County Commission about paying staff, “the county just essentially balked at the idea of paying my staff to be on call,” he said. 

Bishop said for three months there has been a job opening for a prosecutor position, but they haven’t received a single applicant. 

He didn’t specify reasons the position was difficult to fill, but in other legislative committees lawmakers have been told how lack of housing in rural areas plays a role in meeting employment needs. 

While Washoe County is bigger, Higgens said courts there still foresee similar obstacles implementing the law but “will make it work.” 

Welborn said the ACLU supports options such as “unifying courts or investing in technology or whatever other means necessary to meet that 48 hours threshold.”

“But we cannot allow the state to move backward,” she said.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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